Special education means that students with disabilities require specialized support to thrive. Parents, advocates, lawmakers, and educators have raised concerns that this support has been disrupted during the pandemic, causing students with disabilities to fall further behind their peers. National surveys of school district leaders suggest such concerns are not unfounded.

Fortunately, help is on the way. The passage of the American Rescue Plan brings the potential to meaningfully address the challenges presented by the pandemic for such students. The plan awards approximately $2.6 billion in state grants for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to support K–12 students with special needs.

But how should states and local education agencies prioritize spending these funds? National surveys of K–12 teachers through RAND's American Educator Panels provide insight into the specific kinds of challenges schools face and anticipate for effectively educating students with disabilities during the pandemic and beyond. Understanding these can help identify important funding options that might address the current gaps.

When surveyed in fall 2020, most teachers from a nationally representative sample reported that, when teaching remotely, their students with disabilities engaged with assignments less than their general education peers. Teachers struggled too: Many lacked confidence in their ability to provide accommodations required through students' Individualized Education Programs. Together, these findings add to the concern about learning losses for such students.

Read the full article about supporting students with disabilities by Laura Stelitano, Melissa Kay Diliberti, Katie Feistel, and Heather Gomez-Bendaña at the RAND Corporation.